NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
April 5 – 20, 2017
Mission: Experimental Longline Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: April 7, 2017
Science and Technology Log
This is the second leg of the Oregon II’s experimental longline survey. A longline is a type of fishing gear that will deploy one fishing line that is very long and very thick and has many hooks attached to it. We will be doing a survey by collecting systematic samplings to assess fish populations. This mission is an experimental one because the longline is being placed at depths deeper than they fish during the annual longline survey and are able to alter the bait type and leader material to see how it could affect catch rates.
The longlines are baited with pieces of squid. Squid live in deep water so it makes sense to use them to attract deep-sea sharks. Squid also stays on the hooks better than the mackerel and these hooks have to make it a LONG way down on this survey. The lines are placed in the water and then allowed to soak for several hours. This allows the squid bait to settle down into the deep water (aided by the weights attached) and for sharks to find the bait. The fishing line with the hooks is a mile long, but the total line put out can be up to 3 miles long because of the scope needed to allow the 1 mile of gear to reach the deep bottom depths.
As we bring in the catch we will be gathering data on the species caught, sex, maturity stage for male sharks, and certain sharks will be tagged. There are different tags for different sizes of sharks and a small piece of fin is collected on all tagged sharks for genetic purposes. The weight and three or four different measurements will be taken on the all species. Photos of any uncommon species are also taken if time allows to help with identification processes in the future, and so everyone can see them if they weren’t on the watch when the catch occurred.
On my dayshift team is James Sulikowski, a scientist from the University of New England in Maine, who will be using an ultrasound on larger female sharks that we bring on board. Ideally, he and Trey Driggers, the night watchleader from the NOAA MS Labs, would like to catch some large female hammerhead or dusky sharks. James will use the ultrasound to determine if the large females are pregnant. If they are pregnant, a satellite tag will be placed on the sharks that will stay on for approximately 30 days. This is perfect as females could be giving birth over this time frame. The tags will be used to track the sharks with the hope that important habitats where the adults give birth can be identified. James (and Neil Hammerschlag) has conducted similar research on tiger sharks, but linking pregnancy to specific movements has not been conducted with sharks captured in the Gulf of Mexico. Our experimental longline survey is happening at a perfect time to gather data for this research.
We are at sea now but since getting somewhere is half the fun…..isn’t that what they always say….I wanted to tell you a little about my trip to the ship. On Tuesday night as I was packing we had a storm and lost power for a few hours. No big deal since I was on the ball and pretty much packed at this point. Wednesday morning, I leave for the airport and about 15 miles down the road I realize I left something I had to have. So, I made a quick turn around and retrieved it. It was a nice drizzling rain and some fog for the drive to the airport. Now my luck continued when I arrived at airport. Long term parking was full so I had to park at the BACK of the economy lot. I don’t mind a walk normally but it was raining and that made THREE parking lots to walk through. Luckily the airport has a little shuttle van to pick up travelers in just such situations. Oh wait…. This one just drove past us all and kept circling but never actually picked anyone up. Hmmm. I had a very bumpy ride to Dallas due to the weather and was relieved to make it to my gate for my connection in Dallas. Then comes the announcement that they need to change a tire on our plane. I was completely ok with this hour wait since I see the value in having tires when we land in Gulfport! So only an hour late I made it safely to my destination.
I had a great visit with the scientist who picked me up at the airport. I found out that he and his family intend a vacation in the future to canoe on the Buffalo River. I forget what an amazing state I live in sometimes when it comes to our state parks and outdoor adventures. One of his areas of focus is Cownose Rays and we discussed how he uses networking to find opportunities to gather data. My students know how important I feel networking can be. You never know when that person you meet can help answer a question, provide guidance or solve a problem for you somewhere down the road. He told me how he took the time just this week to meet some folks who are at NOAA from other countries and ask them to share his contact information because it could help him fill in some needed data for his research.
Arriving the day before most everyone else made my first night a little bit of an adventure. I had a short tour of the boat and then was on my own. I was talking with my son on the phone and he asked if it felt like an episode of Scooby Doo where they are on an abandoned ship. Well.. a little like that. There were lots of new noises to get used to. And for such a small ship there are lots of doors and rooms. It is a definite culture shock from the cruise ship I was on during spring break just two weeks ago.
My students all wanted to know what the ship would be like. I will be posting some pics so you can get an idea of what it’s like. I will be sharing my cabin with someone else. We will basically take turns using it about 12 hours apiece each day. I knew it would be small but let’s just say I won’t be doing any workouts in my room. But it has a place for everything and my bunk is comfortable. There are metal stairs from level to level on the ship. These are an adventure with my tri-level glasses. One hand for the rail and I am good. For those that know me well one of their concerns was that I wouldn’t be able to make it without going for a run. Crisis averted…there is a rowing machine, weights, a stationary bike etc. onboard. So I guess I will not have to resort to running in place as some people thought.
The first day onboard was spent getting ready to sail. I just stayed out of the way and introduced myself to the crew as they passed by. We were underway in the early afternoon and it was an adjustment getting used to the motion of the boat. We had some very informative safety meetings and I got an overview of what we would be doing the next day. Had a great dinner, our stewards really will keep us fed well! Then we spent the evening talking and getting to know one another, watching tv, catching up on emails, going through data collection and trying to stay up till midnight so we could get our bodies started on our new schedule.
Day two and we are ready to rock and roll. I slept amazing and woke up to calmer seas. I was up on deck enjoying the sunshine and getting to watch James ultrasound a few smaller sharks. I have participated in ultrasounds on dogs, cows, and horses but never a shark. It was a lot of fun trying to identify how many babies were inside and the best way to use the ultrasound on these smaller sharks.
The day continued to be gorgeous. We pulled one set and caught several sharks, red snapper, and a few eels. After pulling one set we had several hours of downtime as we head to our next station. The timing looks like we will get the next set out for the night crew to pull. The downtime allows everyone to catch up on computer work, and emails. You can also just sit out on the deck and enjoy the sunset.
Did You Know
- The Gulf of Mexico has a broad range of ocean ecosystems from shallow reefs to sea forests and has both shallow coastlines and deep ocean waters reaching as deep as 14,300. There is an ample food supply and the perfect habitat for several species of sharks.
- Sharks do not have swim bladders like bony fish.
- Sharks store energy in their liver in the form of a viscous oil. This means their liver is very large.